Sometimes, when something strange happens to you, it’s best to just roll with it. Or spin with it, in this case.
In other words, I’m glad that I’ve always had the mind of an engineer.
Also, that I happened to be playing with the magnetic trick coin when it happened.
Let me set the scene. Friday night, about seven at night. I’m sitting at my crappy little dinner table, fiddling with the coin absent-mindedly as I’m staring at my phone, sitting on the table.
She still hasn’t texted back, of course. Isn’t that how life always goes? Everything was great, we were joking, laughing, tons of texts flowing back and forth. And then, I ask her out – and suddenly nothing, silence.
Sucks, man. I hate that feeling, especially considering how frequently it seems to be a part of my life. Losing. Always losing.
I’d been spinning the coin for the last thirty minutes, convincing myself each time that, as soon as it stopped spinning on its edge, I’d get up. Screw this girl, anyway! I could go over to the pub next door, grab a few drinks, probably see Sean and Andy from work. Maybe even meet a new babe over there.
Last one, I told myself for the thirtieth time, flicking the coin out across the table, watching as the fake “dollar” coin spun around in a little flashing circle of light. After it falls, I’m getting up.
But it didn’t.
My emotions went from anger and annoyance, to feeling impressed, to a sense of confused amazement. I lowered myself down, looking at the coin at its level, watching as it kept on spinning on the table. What was going on?
I tried pounding a fist on the table. The coin jumped, but kept spinning when it landed. I fished one of the magnets off my fridge (a smiling panda, a move-in gift from my mom) and held it near the coin. It pulled the still-spinning coin towards it, but the coin kept on twirling.
Now this, this was definitely a sign of something. The universe definitely was trying to send some sort of message.
I just wished I knew what it was telling me.
After another minute, I shook my head, rubbed my eyes, scooped my phone up from the table. “Whatever,” I groaned, grabbing my jacket off the back of the couch and checking the pocket for the jingle of my keys. “I’m going to go get that beer anyway.”
Three hours later, considerably more sloshed, I stumbled back up to my apartment, opened the door – and stared.
It was still going. Still spinning, right there in the middle of the kitchen table. Peering closer, I noticed that it had worn a little divot in the cheap plastic surface.
If I’d been more sober, maybe I would have wondered more about what was going on, why it kept going. But I was drunk, three sheets to a wind, and an engineer.
So, what else? I started tinkering.
Another magnet still made the coin move, hopping out of its little depression in the plastic. I pulled the coin first onto my hand, marveling at how warm it felt, and then deposited it onto a thick chunk of aluminum I’d stolen from one of our recent builds at work. I’d intended to turn it in for some cash, but it would work fine as a holder for the coin.
Next, I put some wire around it, hooking it up to a spare lightbulb. It took a couple seconds, but sure enough, the bulb flickered into life.
I grinned. Perpetual motion! I thought drunkenly to myself.
I looked around the room. What else could I do? What about going the other way? I had a crappy little weak generator now. Could I boost the field, get more power out of it?
A few changes to the layout of the wire, and I had an induction coil, pushing more energy into the coin via its own magnetic field. Normally, of course, this would make a spinning magnet quickly come to a stop as it absorbed its own kinetic energy. I held my breath.
The coin didn’t stop. Instead, it spun faster and faster, until it looked almost like a solid sphere of metal – and I realized suddenly that the aluminum block beneath the coin was starting to smoke where it sat on my counter.
Hastily, I whipped the coil off the coin. It didn’t slow down, but at least the acceleration stopped.
Interesting. I’d need a bigger heat sink.
It was about this time that my stomach suddenly decided to protest its beer-filled contents, and I abruptly lurched off to the bathroom. I spent the next hour wrapped around the cool porcelain, and then dragged myself into bed.
The next morning, I opened my eyes to a soft whirring sound. I blinked, rubbing at my head and wincing at the bright sunlight shining in through my slatted blinds. Pulling myself out of bed, I stumbled into the kitchen.
It was still there, spinning merrily away. I hadn’t hallucinated or dreamed the whole thing. The coin had formed a slight little depression in the aluminum, but it otherwise looked the same. Still spinning.
I looked at it as I poured myself a cup of coffee, made some eggs (my favorite hangover cure, especially with some Sriracha on them). I ate slowly, watching the thing spin.
And then, afterwards, I called Sean and Andy.
It took a bit of convincing, but eventually I got them both over to my crappy little apartment. What else were they going to do on a Saturday morning? Neither of them had girlfriends, either.
The three of us sat around, staring at the coin. I carefully transferred it back over to the table, lifting the aluminum block. I noticed that the coin seemed to have a bit of gyroscopic motion to it, and liked to stay in its little divot on the aluminum even when I tilted the block.
“It doesn’t make sense, though,” Sean finally pointed out. “Conservation of energy-“
“Yeah, but it’s going!” I interrupted him. “Maybe there’s some weird trick of the universe here, or some neutrino hit it just the right way-“
“It still wouldn’t-“
“Guys, guys,” Andy cut us both off. “You’re looking at this wrong.”
“How’s that?” Sean asked, sounding grumpy at being told that he was wrong about anything. Sean hated being wrong.
Andy gestured towards the coin. “It’s going. We see that. But what can we do with it now?”
“We can boost it, if we need more power,” I pointed out, and explained my experiment with the induction coil last night.
Andy nodded. “So maybe we put the thing in a water tank, rig up an induction coil, get some big-ass heat sinks-“
“Hook the tank up to a generator same idea as nuclear plants-” Sean jumped in, quickly forgetting his previous grumpiness as his engineering brain took over. “Maybe a few banks of capacitors-“
“Hell, that sounds like free power!” I exclaimed, finishing the other two’s thoughts. “At least, at one station. We’ve only got one coin.”
“Yeah – about that,” Sean asked next, glancing over at me and waggling his eyebrows.
We all rushed to my laptop. Amazon had the magic coins in stock, but it would still take a couple days for shipping. I ordered two dozen.
My last girlfriend, before she left, told me that my brain was broken. “Engineering – all you think about is how!” she shouted at me, as she stormed out of my apartment. At the time, I hadn’t known what she meant.
But now, I started to see.
By that evening, my apartment looked more like an Ace Hardware, or maybe a hardware store that had just played host to a localized tornado. Wire and chunks of metal lay scattered across the floor, and a large bank of car batteries sat balanced precariously on my living room coffee table. We’d moved the coin to a larger piece of aluminum, enclosed on all four sides by plexiglass and balanced over a vat of water to absorb any excess heat.
We’d boosted the coin’s speed again, and figured out how to reverse the flow through the coil to drain some of the speed off if we overcharged the thing too much. Sure enough, thanks to the coin’s magnetic nature, we soon had a charge flowing out, pumping the batteries up to their maximum charge. Our first voltmeter blew up in a hiss of melting plastic, but we picked up a stronger one, and worked out that we had about 250 volts flowing out of the coin right now.
Each of us had our own ideas for where we should go next. Andy was still campaigning that we hook it up to the wall outlets, try and run the whole apartment building off of it. Sean instead felt that we should move the coin somewhere else, protect it.
I just kept thinking about that package from Amazon, on its way here. Would the other coins behave the same way? Was it the spinning method, the location, the nearness of my phone? I’d done my best to keep my table, chair, and other parts of my kitchen the same, even as the piles of wire built up.
The best part? That girl, halfway through the day, she texted me back – some insincere apology. Something about missing my message, being busy, something like that.
I didn’t even see the text alert until two hours later, and didn’t even have enough spare brainpower to think of a reply. I just tossed my phone aside and returned back to the spinning coin in its new chamber.
That relationship? No future there.
But this coin, now, this had potential for a very bright future.